• myosin heavy chain;
  • heart morphogenesis;
  • cardiac performance


Key morphogenetic events during heart ontogenesis are similar in different vertebrate species. We report that in primitive vertebrates, i.e., cartilaginous fishes, both the embryonic and the adult heart show a segmental subdivision similar to that of the embryonic mammalian heart. Early morphogenetic events during cardiac development in the dogfish are long-lasting, providing a suitable model to study changes in pattern of gene expression during these stages. We performed a comparative study among dogfish, chicken, rat, and mouse to assess whether species-specific qualitative and/or quantitative differences in myosin heavy chain (MyHC) distribution arise during development, indicative of functional differences between species. MyHC RNA content was investigated by means of in situ hybridisation using an MyHC probe specific for a highly conserved domain, and MyHC protein content was assessed by immunohistochemistry. MyHC transcripts were found to be homogeneously distributed in the myocardium of the tubular and embryonic heart of dogfish and rodents. A difference between atrial and ventricular MyHC content (mRNA and protein) was observed in the adult stage. Interestingly, differences in the MyHC content were observed at the tubular heart stage in chicken. These differences in MyHC content illustrate the distinct developmental profiles of avian and mammalian species, which might be ascribed to distinct functional requirements of the myocardial segments during ontogenesis. The atrial myocardium showed the highest MyHC content in the adult heart of all species analysed (dogfish (S. canicula), mouse (M. musculus), rat (R. norvegicus), and chicken (G. gallus)). These observations indicate that in the adult heart of vertebrates the atrial myocardium contains more myosin than the ventricular myocardium. Anat Rec 268:27–37, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.